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Exclusive Interview

Richard Branson: You’ve got to take risks if you are going to succeed

In an exclusive interview for The Original, Sir Richard Branson, the visionary and founder of Virgin sits down with Ksenija Pavlovic to talk about his rules for a successful life and business. He reveals that the best way of learning to run a business is actually to run a business
Datum: 16/05/2016

Richard Branson: You’ve got to take risks if you are going to succeed

Photo Credits: Profimedia

"It's exhilarating starting your own business. But there will always come a time when your back is against the wall and you have to think fast to find a solution. You have to be prepared for that, it's not all plain sailing,” Sir Richard Branson, the top mind in business and the CEO of Virgin — the international empire that encompasses music, stylish air travel, hotels, mobile phones, publishing, and philanthropic endeavors— disclosed to me on a rainy afternoon of our conversation.

“If you are going to create a business”, he continued,"you've got to have passion for it and you've got to be able to inspire other people to have a passion for it too. And you've got to make sure that every aspect of what you do is better than the competition, so you fill a gap in the market. Surround yourselves with really good people and don’t be afraid of asking for advice. You know what you know. Be a good listener, get out there, ask advice and do it.”

Branson’s support for young entrepreneurs comes from a place of openness and his genuine desire to see young talent succeeding. Having experienced the childhood struggles with dyslexia, he is using his own experience and positive outlook to set the empowering example for others with the same condition.

IF YOU ARE GOING TO CREATE A BUSINESS, YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE PASSION FOR IT AND YOU'VE GOT TO BE ABLE TO INSPIRE OTHER PEOPLE TO HAVE A PASSION FOR IT TOO

 

Branson has been openly writing on his blog about dyslexia to raise awareness around it. He is firmly committed to show that those diagnosed with dyslexia should not feel held back by their condition. Branson’s life journey is the story about reinvention through uncharted waters, the story of successfully learning to turn limitations to his own advantage.

California, U.S. - Virgin founder Sir. Robert Branson poses with the new Galactic version of its SpaceShipTwo space tourism rocket
 Photo Credits: Profimedia

 

Life does not happen in the exam rooms

The school system was not successful in keeping Branson interested. In 1966 a British 16-year-old put his education on hold to start a youth-culture magazine called Student. Students, for students, produced the outlet and thanks to a significant number of advertisers he was able to attract, the first 50,000 copies were distributed for free. Since then, his companies kept on exploding creating a network of business ventures the world has not yet seen to-date.

Talking to a man of creative exploration who keeps conquering the next great frontier, I was curious to find out what educational reform he would propose for students with creative minds. What does he think should be done on a large scale of an educational policy to keep them interested and thrive?

"The qualities that make for a great entrepreneur – such as boundless energy, a curious nature and, sometimes, an obstinate streak – are not often attributes demonstrated by top students in the classroom. Fostering creativity and entrepreneurial spirit could be better achieved by shifting focus to practical education and the development of skills used in everyday activities and business in our schools, colleges and universities. Life doesn’t happen in exam rooms.

Virgin Azuma train, which be able to travel up to 125mph, at Kings Cross station, London.
Branson unveils Virgin Azuma train, which will be able to travel up to 125mph, at Kings Cross station, London.
Photo Credits: Profimedia

The best way of learning to run a business is actually to run a business. As part of the school curriculum, if everybody set up a little business within their school - it could maybe even be a fictional business, with fictional money and so on, it would ensure pupils understand the difference between gross and net and hopefully fire off their passion for business.

In addition, reducing the time it takes to complete university degrees would cut debt for students and increase productivity - surely better for everyone".

Bring energy, passion and ideas

When Branson has an idea that needs to be executed, one should not be fooled with his laid-back demeanor. The British mastermind has a specific set of criteria for selecting his winning team.

"Energy, passion and ideas are what we look for in all our employees. But if we're sailing into uncharted waters, we aim to hire CEOs and management team members who have worked in the industry and who know what works. Such people frequently join us from a dominant player in the sector, where their ideas and ambitions were stifled by practices that are hierarchical, blinkered and focused on the bottom line.

We look for people who want to bring radical change to an industry, give them the freedom to get creative and the backing of our brand, and then we step back and watch them fly.”

THE QUALITIES THAT MAKE FOR A GREAT ENTREPRENEUR – SUCH AS BOUNDLESS ENERGY, A CURIOUS NATURE AND, SOMETIMES, AN OBSTINATE STREAK – ARE NOT OFTEN ATTRIBUTES DEMONSTRATED BY TOP STUDENTS IN THE CLASSROOM

 

For young graduates and those who are seeking a career at Virgin, Branson however highlights that resumes are only part of the equation. "Make sure you demonstrate your skills with tangible examples. And where you can, let others vouch for you by seeking endorsements from reputable sources on your LinkedIn profile, for example.

At Virgin we have found that the key to finding the right people is looking for those who are energized by our passion, who want to add to our ideas and aren’t afraid to suggest ways to improve them. Come to a Virgin interview with energy, enthusiasm and your own thoughts on what we can do better. And don’t worry about wearing a tie!"

 

In Business, You've Got to Take Risks

Richard Branson’s business has become a case study in risk diversification at business schools and classrooms around the world. For years, he was able to move with great success and even greater audacity from one market to another. Stepping aside from the text-books which try so hard to decode the sheer complexity of his strategic mindset, Branson candidly reveals that "You’ve got to take risks if you are going to succeed. I would much rather ask forgiveness than permission”.

He recalls that one of the biggest financial risks was founding Virgin Atlantic in 1984 when he had no experience of the airline industry. "I had tried to cover the downside by leasing the initial plane for a year and keeping the business separate from all of our other businesses. But even then, we were almost sunk before our first trip when a bird flew into the engine and we had to use our reserves to buy a new one. You definitely shouldn't be afraid to diversify if you are in a position to do so because nothing ever stays exactly the same."

Sir Richard Branson as his airline Virgin Atlantic has taken a step towards profitability by halving its losses in 2009.
Sir Richard Branson celebrating Virgin Atlantic
Photo Credits: Profimedia

 

If you are not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits

According to Branson — one of the biggest movers and shakers of the 20th century— fun is one of the most important and underrated ingredients of any successful venture.If you're not having fun, then it's probably time to call it quits and try something else,  he says.

While encouraging entrepreneurial zeal in his team, he also stresses an importance of leisure time and always making sure that his employees can have some bonding time after working hours. 

 “I have always believed in letting your staff have the occasional blast at an after-hours get-together. It is a hugely important ingredient in the mix that makes for a family atmosphere and a fun-loving, free-spirited culture. It also goes a long way to tearing down any semblance of hierarchy when you’ve seen the CFO doing the limbo with a bottle of beer in her hand. As we say at Virgin, if you have fun and do good, then success will come.”

Innovator and unconventional in so many ways, Branson has a revolutionary approach to the working style formulated in a flexible working policy. He is a great believer in giving his employees the opportunity to carry out their work as they see fit. The idea includes the rise of remote working, open plan offices, co-working spaces, increased connectivity, hot-desking and the many other workplace innovations which are transforming the daily lives of people.

“Lots of people still think work has to be in an office Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. At Virgin we trust people to work how, when and where they want. So long as they're delivering results it doesn't matter how they chose to do it.”

I HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED IN LETTING YOUR STAFF HAVE THE OCCASIONAL BLAST AT AN AFTER-HOURS GET-TOGETHER. IT IS A HUGELY IMPORTANT INGREDIENT IN THE MIX THAT MAKES FOR A FAMILY ATMOSPHERE AND A FUN-LOVING, FREE-SPIRITED CULTURE

 

Family time, for Richard Branson, is of the utmost importance and he has often shared with public the glimpses of dinners and warm gatherings with his loved ones. However, strike a work-life balance while running a business empire was not always easy and at times equal to walking a tightrope.

"Lean too far one way and you'll lose your stability and topple. But it's important you make time to just 'be' and relax, so that when opportunity comes knocking you've got the energy to make everyone second count.” He insist on prioritizing time with his loved ones and puts it in his work calendar as he would a meeting and sets on an out-of-office alert.

 

Business should absolutely be a force for good

Branson is deeply involved in humanitarian work with a very ambitious global agenda. With the British musician Peter Gabriel, he came up with the idea to create the Elders, an independent group of renowned global leaders who are dedicated to tackle the most pressing problems facing the world today from war to global warming. With the support of Nelson Mandela, the group was formally launched in Johannesburg in July 2007.

“I'm proud to say Virgin Unite helped bring together the Elders, an independent group of global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela and led by Kofi Annan who work together to promote peace and human rights. Virgin Unite also incubated the B Team, a group of global business leaders who share similar views about the need to transform the future of business and use entrepreneurial skills to help solve critical social and environmental issues.

FAILURE AND REJECTION ARE AN INEVITABLE PART OF BUSINESS, AND HOW YOU DEAL WITH THEM WILL ULTIMATELY AFFECT YOUR SUCCESS. THE ABILITY TO COPE WITH AND LEARN FROM FAILURE AND REJECTION CAN BE PRACTICED AND HONED ALONG THE WAY.

 

Business should absolutely be a force for good. People, the planet and profit are not mutually exclusive. Business should prioritize all three. In recent years, we've stepped up our efforts in confronting global problems, such as starvation and inequality through the work of Virgin Unite, our not-for-profit foundation. Using the strength of my family name and the Virgin brand’s convening power, we leverage our customers, social media followers, and employees, to raise awareness of and take action around important issues. Our remit is broad and holistic.”

On many occasions, Branson has pointed out that failure and rejection are an inevitable part of business, but what , I asked him, did he say to himself when things did not work out as planned?

“Failure and rejection are an inevitable part of business, and how you deal with them will ultimately affect your success. The ability to cope with and learn from failure and rejection can be practiced and honed along the way. Some people are better at it than others. We have had many great successes at Virgin, but we have also experienced a number of failures. Every time something hasn’t worked out as we hoped it would, we have picked ourselves up, looked at what went wrong, and learned from our mistakes” , concludes Branson.


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